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Subject:      More on Ofeq, and some speculation
From: (Allen Thomson)
Date:         1995/04/15
Message-Id:   <>

    Looking at the orbit of the Ofeq-3 protospysat the Israelis 
launched earlier this month, I've been struck by how several 
accidents of geography and orbital mechanics have worked in 
favor of Israel (and possibly one of its friends). 
     The first is the shape of the Mediterranean Sea and the 
location of Israel.  The Israelis can't launch in a direction 
that would overfly or drop stages on nervous neighbors, so 
they're constrained to an azimuth that takes their SLVs just 
south of Crete and Sicily, near Tunis, and out over the Straits 
of Gibraltar.  This is just about the *only* trajectory currently 
available to them, and it's remarkable how neatly it fits into 
the local geography. 
     Due to the payload penalty that comes with a retrograde 
orbit, the westward launch constraint is usually seen as a 
severe handicap for Israel.  As reported in an earlier message, 
however, the resulting east-to-west orbit at 36 degrees 
inclination can be phased to give extraordinarily good daylight 
coverage of the Middle East.  Ofeq-3's orbit is so phased, and 
it makes a half-dozen or so daylight passes per day over Israel 
and the surrounding countries.  Putative US and Russian spysats 
only get one or two passes per day from their higher inclination 
     Although the natural evolution of Ofeq's orbit will "detune" 
it for Mid-East coverage after several weeks, it will 
subsequently cycle back into the proper phasing.  An obvious way 
to solve the detuning problem is to use a constellation of three 
Ofeqs with ascending nodes spaced 120 degrees apart in longitude.  
In that case, at least one satellite would provide good daylight 
coverage at any given time (*).  Moreover, a user in a different 
part of the world could also use the satellites, which leads to 
the last geographical coincidence and a bit of political 
     As it turns out, the Cape of Good Hope is at 34 degrees 
south latitude, and the properties of Ofeq-3's orbit that make 
it very good for keeping an eye on Israel's neighbors make it
equally good for watching what's going on in and around South 
Africa.  The phasing of the orbit has to be different, but with 
a constellation of three, both Israel and the South Africans 
would enjoy uninterrupted multiple daytime passes. 
     Why single out the South Africans as possible co-users of 
Ofeqs rather than other folks who live around 35 degrees north 
or south of the Equator?  (Here comes the speculation; be 
warned.)  Well, there is the long history of kind-of-covert 
military cooperation between the two countries, including 
development of significant technologies.  More specifically, 
there have been reports that South Africa's now canceled 
Greensat program, which evolved from a spysat design, had much 
in common with Ofeq.  While the former South African government 
might have preferred to build and launch its own satellites, 
having the option to use the services of a country not 
effectively under MTCR constraints could well have been 
attractive.  The lucky geographical/orbitological coincidences 
described above would make it look like an even better deal, 
since South Africa would only have to install a tracking antenna 
under a dome and perhaps get cryptographic key material from the 
Israelis.  Quite likely such an arrangement could escape 
detection for a long time, giving South Africa the advantage of 
covert space-based surveillance of its neighbors and avoiding 
international political problems. 
     Even if the above fantasy were true in The World That Was, 
it probably isn't any more, as the apartheid regime and its 
adversarial relations with most of the rest of the world have 
disappeared.  Nonetheless, it makes for entertaining speculation, 
and perhaps would be worth researching a little more. 
(*) No  Usenet posting should be without footnotes: For those who 
would like to see how the hypothetical three-Ofeq constellation 
behaves, here are some orbital elements to feed to your tracking 
programs. "OfeqA" is the real Ofeq-3, while B and C have had the 
longitude of the ascending node increased by 120 and 240 degrees, 
1 23549U 95018  A 95096.85362148  .00113461  00000-0  33509-2 0    36
2 23549 143.3777 102.1910 0261160  83.0998 279.9378 15.06127287   200
1 23549U 95018  A 95096.85362148  .00113461  00000-0  33509-2 0    36
2 23549 143.3777 222.1910 0261160  83.0998 279.9378 15.06127287   203
1 23549U 95018  A 95096.85362148  .00113461  00000-0  33509-2 0    36
2 23549 143.3777 342.1910 0261160  83.0998 279.9378 15.06127287   206

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